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How Insecure Leaders Can Sabotage Productivity

Albert Ziganshin/

Of all the annoyances the workday can entail — that too-early alarm, rush hour traffic, late nights stuck at your desk on deadline — having a bad boss can be the most insidious.

“Nobody wants to go to work when they don’t get along with their boss,” says Jon Maner, a professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School. “It really weighs on people’s everyday life.”

Maner has studied bad bosses, with the goal of understanding their behavior so that it can be curtailed. He has focused in particular on power-hungry bosses who are surprisingly willing to sideline their best performing employees — and promote incompetent team members — in order to keep themselves from being outshined.

“Top performers are really, really valuable members of the group,” Maner says. “These are the people who are often innovating, they’re creating, they’re pushing the organization forward. That can make power-hungry bosses nervous because these are the people who are probably the most able to take over some of their power.”

And, of course, bad bosses are not simply unpleasant for employees. They also can be disastrous for the entire organization.

James Shein, a clinical professor of strategy at the Kellogg School, has seen power-hungry bosses ruin company after company. This is particularly true when a company is failing and the CEO needs to change course to salvage the organization.

“A sitting CEO has a very difficult time making changes because, to them, it often means, ‘I must have done something wrong previously,’” Shein says. This is when a board needs to step in to find a new leader.

“If you don’t push them out they often will just keep driving the company down into the dirt,” he says.

You can hear more from Maner and Shein about what motivates bad bosses and how to keep them in check in this month’s Insight in Person podcast.

Emily Stone is a research editor at the Kellogg School of Management. This article originally appeared on Kellogg Insight.

(Image via Albert Ziganshin/

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